We are counting down the 10 biggest moments of 2015 for the Nationals as we approach New Year's Day. In the second installment, we look back at the Nationals trade deadline series against the New York Mets...
The Nationals travelled to New York City on July 31 to play the Mets with several things stacking up in their favor. Their lead in the NL East was three games and they had just taken two of three against the Mets at home on July 20-22. They had just seen Anthony Rendon return from the disabled list on July 25 and both Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman were activated on July 28.
The Nats were getting healthy. If they had maintained first place without that trio, the thought was: imagine how good they would be with them in the lineup.
The Mets had just added some firepower themselves. On July 27, they traded for former Nationals setup man Tyler Clippard. Then, on the afternoon of July 31 as the Nats and Mets were getting set to open their series, New York pulled off a stunner to acquire Yoenis Cespedes, right before time expired at the 2015 trade deadline.
The Mets got stronger, but the Nats believed they were adding more talent to their roster simply by getting healthy than any other team was through trades. Plus, the Nats had just acquired former World Series-winning closer Jonathan Papelbon. In theory, they were getting better, too.
Despite all that appeared to be going the Nationals' way, the next three days became one of the major turning points in their disappointing 2015 season. The Mets swept the Nats to take over first place for good, setting the stage for their magical finish to the regular season and eventual World Series run.
The first game of that trade deadline series saw Matt Harvey rise to the occasion with an impressive performance. He didn't allow a hit until the sixth inning and didn't cough up a run until the eighth. That's when Clippard first faced his former team and escaped by striking out Werth in an epic at-bat of 13 pitches. The lone run against Harvey, an RBI single by Yunel Escobar, set the stage for extra innings where Wilmer Flores came through in the 12th with a walkoff home run off Felipe Rivero. It was just days after Flores was crying in the middle of a game because he thought he was traded, and a Mets fan couldn't have scripted it any better.
The second game featured another bullpen collapse for the Nationals. Rookie Joe Ross got them through 6 1/3 innings as he matched Jacob deGrom pound-for-pound. But right before Ross left the game, he allowed his second homer of the night to Lucas Duda, who tied it all up at 2-2 in the seventh. That tying run would set the Mets up for another rally punctuated by Duda in the eighth inning. Facing Matt Thornton, Duda roped a double to left-center field to score Curtis Granderson, as the Mets prevailed 3-2 and gave themselves a chance to sweep on Sunday.
In the series finale, Jordan Zimmermann struggled and was outpitched by rookie Noah Syndergaard. Despite the Nats taking an early lead with a Rendon solo home run in the first, they couldn't keep it as Zimmermann surrendered five runs off three homers in the bottom of the third. Granderson, Daniel Murphy and Duda all went yard to give the Mets a 5-1 lead. Escobar would answer with a homer in the sixth, but that was it as Clippard recorded the final out of a momentous sweep for New York.
Several things stuck out at the time about the series, including some bullpen decisions made by Matt Williams. The Nats had just acquired Papelbon and Drew Storen was pitching at an All-Star level, though neither appeared in any of their three games at New York. The trade deadline sweep to the Mets was the beginning of the Nats downfall, and arguably for Williams as Washington's manager as well.
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